Mazen Hajjar of Lebanese craft brewery 961 Beer is on a mission to spread the gospel of good beer. “Beer is like a kaleidoscope” he says in his TEDxTalk on the subject, “You open a door and there are ten others behind it. Open another door and there are hundreds of others behind it.”
The same can be said of his storied career -- his journey from war photographer to investment banker to home brewer to owner of Lebanon’s first and only craft brewery has been anything but typical.
In July 2006, while sitting on his balcony in Beirut watching as bombs fell nearby, Mazen started to read Steve Hindy’s (founder of Brooklyn Brewery) autobiography, “Beer School.”
“First page, first sentence, first paragraph… ‘I woke up to the sounds of bombs exploding outside my hotel Alexander El Shafie’…it’s one of those moments where you think the world comes together for a reason. So I called all my friends and said ‘let’s brew some beer.’”
Fast forward seven years and Mazen is telling his story to an enraptured audience at Reza’s Restaurant for the official launch of 961 Beer in Chicago.
“We invented beer in 9,000 B.C., it was our greatest contribution to human civilization. We have an amazing culinary tradition, so why shouldn’t that be represented in our beer?”
A quick look at his Lebanese Pale Ale makes clear how intentional about this claim he is. The beer draws its inspiration from the Lebanese spice markets and features Lebanese herbs, such as za'atar (wild thyme), sumac, chamomile, sage, anise and mint, giving it a distinctly Lebanese flavor and fragrance. It also pairs tremendously well with food.
“Our beers are a trip back in history and draws from our culinary traditions. They’re balanced with a layering of flavors – the first sip is not going to taste like the second.”
“Sometimes the craft beer scene has the tendency to become a “geek club” and alienate the beer drinker… When I’m planning a new beer I never start thinking ‘these are the parameters,’ I start by waking up and asking myself ‘what do I want to drink today?’”
When asked to sum up 961's vision, Mazen simply responds, “to make the best beer we know how to make.”
Find 961 at the following locations: LINK
Check out this TEDxTalk Mazen delivered in 2011.